In 2000, the average car sported 30 to 50 semiconductors. By 2025, the number of chips and sensors in an automobile will soar to an eye-popping 70,000 as it comes uber-connected and immeasurably smarter, powered by machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), visual sensing, high-precision mapping and other advanced capabilities.
Today, the proliferation of semiconductors in cars is remaking the automotive industry as four major forces – electrification, connectivity, autonomous driving and diverse mobility – take hold, according to the consultancy firm McKinsey in its report Automotive Revolution – Perspective towards 2030 report. The chip industry saw auto-related sales jump from US$7 billion in 1995 to US$30 billion in 2015, a trajectory that has steepened over the past two years as major chip suppliers have rolled out products for precision mapping, navigation, in-car entertainment, and communications. With semiconductors fast becoming a major aspect of automotive design, traditional automakers are quickly moving to build strong partnerships with the semiconductor sector.
Audi, a leading German car brand, took a big step to just that when it became the first automotive OEM to join SEMI as a member in June 2019 and strengthen the automaker’s ties to the semiconductor industry. With a massive market potential to tap, are Taiwan's auto electronics firms well-positioned to work even more closely with first-tier car brands like Audi?
At the Smart Transportation Forum on September 18 at SEMICON Taiwan, Andre Blum, project manager at AUDI AG, will join Ian Chan, CTO of Cyntec, to offer insights into how automakers can team up with Taiwanese auto electronics companies. TechOrange, a Taiwanese tech news online media, spoke Blum ahead of the event about Audi's smart car efforts and the carmaker’s work to integrate new technologies into its automotive designs as it forms new partnerships with the semiconductor industry.
Blum joined Audi in 2004 and since 2016 has led manifold projects within the group driving Audi’s work with semiconductor companies (Progressive Semiconductor Program). He has seen the automotive industry rapidly accelerate the integration of high technology in vehicles, an area where Audi excels.
“The industry is changing how it works and new partners are joining the ecosystems," Blum said.
Audi Wants to be the Next Apple in the Car Sector
Audi's business developments in recent years echo Apple's early push to integrate the Internet and a panoply of applications into mobile phones. The difference now is Audi is working to integrate a wide range of smart applications into its automobiles for – ala Apple – the best user experience.
For example, Audi has recently launched cars designed with Traffic Jam Pilot, Parking Pilot, and Garage Pilot three smart driver-assisting systems. With Traffic Jam Pilot, drivers no longer need to be on standby when stuck in the traffic. Instead, they can kill time with an infotainment system. While out shopping or making other stops, Parking Pilot helps drivers find a parking spot and park automatically. Garage Pilot provides a more comfortable parking-at-home experience – the driver waits maneuvers the car into the garage using handheld remote control.
Audi stepped up its efforts in 2019 and revealed its latest concept car at the Shanghai Auto Show. Dubbed Audi AI:ME, the vehicle is equipped with a dizzying array of high tech: level-four self-driving technology, technology that allows the driver to control features with eye movements, LED units in headlights and taillights that change brightness accordingly at night and in bad weather, and VR goggles for onboard infotainment.
Innovation and Tech Both Key to the New Driving Experience
Automotive technology is rapidly advancing in areas such as electric vehicles, autonomous driving and smart auto electronics. Cars of the future must have more computing power and connectivity to deliver a great user experience that includes high battery efficiency to extend the duration between recharges, in-car entertainment, and intelligent voice assistants – all capabilities made possible by semiconductors.
Unburdened by the tasks of driving, passengers will enjoy a more intimate relationship with their vehicles. "The in-car entertainment system will allow passengers to have a teleconference or enjoy a movie in a theater-like setting,” Blum said.
Switch on the self-driving system and you can drive through the night from Munich to Hamburg, covering a distance of 800 kilometers in the comfort of a home-like environment. The trip is even possible on one charge, meeting high energy-saving standards.
These capabilities are technologically feasible now, but government regulations and policies still need to catch up. In the meantime, Blum says that Audi is focusing on creating a top-notch experience for car users today.
"The minute you step into a car, all the features, including the seat, radio channels, and the entertainment system will have already been adjusted to your liking and seamlessly connected to your mobile or other hand-held devices," he said.
What does the Future Hold for Taiwan in the Next Blue Ocean Market?
Semiconductors are the heart of these features, and Blum believes Taiwan is uniquely positioned to drive advances in automotive chips. Taiwan is home to semiconductor powerhouses TSMC and ASE as well as auto electronics companies, and its sophisticated mobile phone supply chain has endowed it with deep experience in integrating semiconductors with electronic modules – advantages that give Taiwan a head start in the automotive semiconductor market.
Audi, too, is in a strong position to thrive in the new age of automotive electronics as it looks to its membership with SEMI to collaborate with companies across the microelectronics supply chain.
“With rapid advances in automotive electronics technology, semiconductors now play a critical role in innovation and product differentiation,” said Dr. Klaus Buettner, executive vice president of Development Electrics/Electronics, CarIT, Audi.
“To fulfill the promise of sustainable, connected-to-everything, highly automated mobility up to autonomous driving, we need to also align automotive requirements across the entire semiconductor value chain,” he said. “With its global platform, SEMI is the right association to bring together supply chain stakeholders for the close collaboration critical to driving technology innovation.”
Emmy Yi is a marketing specialist at SEMI Taiwan.